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NEW DISCOVERIES: The terracota plaque with five dancers, and a figurine of Ganesha. (Below) A `vel' found in front of the sanctum sanctorum of the Muruga temple near the Tiger Cave near Mamallapuram. Photo: S. Thanthoni
NEW DISCOVERIES: The terracota plaque with five dancers, and a figurine of Ganesha. (Below) A `vel' found in front of the sanctum sanctorum of the Muruga temple near the Tiger Cave near Mamallapuram. Photo: S. Thanthoni

T.S. Subramanian

Plaque belonging to 2nd century A.D. depicts `kuravai koothu'

CHENNAI: Several artefacts have been unearthed from the ruins of a Muruga temple that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been excavating since July 2005 on the beach at Salavankuppam close to the Tiger Cave, near Mamallapuram.

The ASI's discoveries this year include a terracotta plaque that depicts five women performing `kuravai koothu,' a folk dance; a six-foot `vel' (spear held by Lord Muruga) hewn out of granite; three inscriptions in Tamil of the Pallava, Rashtrakuta and Chola kings; a tiny, beautiful terracota Ganesha; and the remnants of a furnace and crucibles for melting and moulding metals. The ASI has exposed the outer and inner `prakara' walls with standing pillars on all four sides of the temple. ASI officials called it "the earliest structural temple discovered in Tamil Nadu."

The big bricks of the sanctum sanctorum of the Muruga temple showed that it dated back to the late Sangam age or the pre-Pallava period of circa second century A.D, they said.

Fabulous collection

T. Satyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai Circle, said the terracotta plaque depicting the dancers "is one of the fabulous collections that will enrich the archaeological wealth of the State." It is a 13 cm by 12 cm bas-relief panel that shows the women with headgear and prominent eyes. Their mouths are open as if they are singing. The plaque belongs to circa second or third century A.D., he said.

"It is an important find because it is difficult to find terracotta figurines of the pre-Pallava period," said P. Shanmugam, Director, Institute of Traditional Cultures of South and South-East Asia, University of Madras. "This is the first time in Tamil Nadu that such a group dance plaque has been found," he said. `Kuravai koothu' performed in Muruga temples find mention in the Tamil epic Silapadhikaram.

The tall granite `vel' was found in standing position several feet in front of the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum). The top portion of the `vel' is on a `padma' pedestal that has two rows of chiselled lotuses. Near the `vel' are two fallen pillars.

A sub-shrine or `vel kottam' with the `vel' in the middle and pillars supporting the roof must have existed there, said G. Thirumoorthy, Assistant Archaeologist, ASI. The `kuravai koothu' plaque and the `vel' established that it was a Muruga temple, added Mr. Thirumoorthy. It appeared that the sub-shrine and the main temple had collapsed twice because of tidal action or tsunami, he said.

All the three Tamil inscriptions discovered now mention the Subrahmanya temple at Thiruvizhchil, which is the present-day Salavankuppam. All spoke of the gift of gold for burning a perpetual lamp at the temple. One inscription on a pillar belongs to the Pallava king, Kambavarman (of 9th century A.D). Another was issued by the Rashtrakuta king, Krishna III, in his 21st regnal year of 971 A.D. The third belonged to the Chola king, Rajendra III, of 13th century A.D.

Earlier finds

During the earlier excavation from July to September 2005, the ASI had discovered the sanctum sanctorum built of bricks of the Muruga temple of the late Sangam age or the pre-Pallava period. According to archaeologists, a tsunami or tidal action damaged it. The Pallava kings subsequently converted into a granite temple in the 8th or 9th century A.D. It too collapsed because of a storm surge or a tsunami. The temple had a third phase of re-construction under the Cholas.

During the excavation last year, the ASI had unearthed two pillars with Tamil inscriptions of two Pallava kings, Nandivarman II of late 8th century A.D. and Dantivarman of early 9th century A.D. They also spoke of donations to the Muruga temple at Thiruvizhchil ( The Hindu , July 12 and September 21, 2005).

"We have thus evidence of the temple construction activity from the pre-Pallava period of roughly second century A.D. to the Chola period of the 12th century A.D.," said K.K. Ramamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Thrissur Circle.

According to Dr. Satyamurthy, two aspects of the excavation stand out. First, it is the earliest structural temple discovered in Tamil Nadu dedicated to Muruga and it was an important pilgrim centre in the Thondaimandalam belt for about 1,000 years. Secondly, the excavation brings to light stratified tsunami deposits.


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